Jewelry Guide

A quick guide on how to tell if a ruby is real

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You can generally categorize a gemstone into three types – natural, synthetic and imitation. When shopping for a ruby, or any precious stone for that matter, you may come across these three terms.

Now, if you know the origin of the stone you are buying and you’re fine with that, then it’s not an issue at all. However, if someone is trying to rip you off with, say an imitation as a natural ruby, then it becomes problematic. Either way, it’s important to be able to identify whether or not your stone is genuine.

Before we delve further into this subject, I need to clarify the three categories I have outlined above. There are numerous misconceptions surrounding these terms in the jewelry industry, and it’s important to understand this clearly.

What is a natural ruby?

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A natural ruby is one that has been formed through natural geological processes. These occur in natural environments, over millions of years and require intense mining processes to extract.

A natural ruby is formed from corundum, the same element that creates sapphires. If you didn’t already know, ruby is the red version of sapphire. The red color of the stone is caused by high amounts of chromium being present during the stone’s formation.

Natural rubies are valuable and highly sought after.

What is a synthetic ruby?

A synthetic ruby, on the other hand, is a ruby that has been created in a lab by humans as opposed to in nature. Chemically, optically and structurally, a synthetic ruby is identical to natural rubies. So, they aren’t fake rubies, but just man-made ones. While natural rubies take millions of years to form, synthetic ones can be created in a matter of months.

Because these stones are created in a tightly controlled environment following a recipe, the outcomes are almost always perfect. In fact, natural stones often have stains and other imperfections that the lab-created ones do not have.

ruby stone round cut

Also, because they take such a short time to create and use up fewer resources, they can be very competitively priced. It is an ideal, cost-efficient option and are great for anyone shopping on a budget without having to compromise on quality.

While some people feel that synthetic stones do not have the romance and history of a natural stone that forms over aeons, others love the scientific aspect of it. And considering that it is an ethical and sustainable form of gemstone, what’s not to love!

What is an imitation ruby?

This brings us to our final category – imitation rubies. You might have guessed by now what an imitation is. An imitation ruby is merely a look-alike stone that is very different chemically and physically to a natural ruby. These are often less durable and much less valuable.

See it here

You do not want to be paying the price of a natural or synthetic ruby for an imitation ruby, so it is really important that you are aware of this when you go shopping for your stone.

Often, this is so cleverly done that it can be difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake.

There is nothing wrong with buying an imitation ruby but if you are mistakenly paying a huge sum for a fake stone with the erroneous belief that it is real, then it is an issue.

Now that we’ve got that sorted, let’s move on to the meat and potatoes of this article – how to tell if a ruby is real or not.

Common Fake Rubies

When talking about imitation rubies, we need to know the types of fake stones that are commonly used. Here is a list of common fake ‘rubies’.

Red-Colored Glass

This does not sound glamorous at all and definitely does not sound valuable! Glass ‘rubies’ are cheap and do not last a long time. They are also relatively easy to identify.

If you compare the ruby to a piece of red glass, you can use your judgement to determine if they look similar. Hold the two items up to a source of light and look for similarities in structure and appearance. Of course, you cannot tell for sure but it will give you some indication.

Garnets

Garnet is an affordable alternative to ruby. See more garnet jewelry by Delarah.

Garnets are a red gemstone that is often used in jewelry. To be fair to garnets, we have to acknowledge that they are a beautiful gemstone in their own right and make for gorgeous jewelry. However, garnets are more readily available and much less expensive. They are composed of dark reddish silicate minerals and are not as valuable as rubies and are also much less durable, with a Mohs ranking of 6.5 – 7.5 as opposed to the rubies ranking of 9.

Garnets are somewhat dull in appearance and have a mahogany or burgundy hue. They can be light in color but are not brilliant as a ruby can be. A real ruby has a very deep and bright red color, which is sometimes called ‘stoplight red’.

Tourmalines

pink tourmaline ring

See this ring here

Tourmalines, while a gorgeous gemstone in itself, is commonly available and therefore not very valuable. It is comprised of crystal silicates. It can be found in dark red hues and can be passed off as a ruby in some cases.

A tourmaline is not as hard as a ruby and comes in at 7 – 7.5 on the Mohs scale. A simple scratch test may help you determine if your ruby is real or some other gemstone.

Ruby composite

These are made by using very low quality natural rubies infused with glass. What happens here is that unwanted matter, such as various foreign minerals and debris, is removed from the low quality red corundum. After this step, the cavities and spaces left behind by the removal of the foreign matter is then filled up with heated liquid glass.

This process can also increase the size of the stone, making it profitable for jewelers. Unfortunately, these composite stones are often sold in the guise of ‘real rubies’.

Related Article: 17 Beautiful Ruby Pieces that Make Perfect Jewelry Gifts (For Her)

5 Ways You Can Use to Tell if Your Ruby is Real

It is very difficult to distinguish the difference between a synthetic, natural or fake gemstone and often requires a trained eye. There are some simple tests that you can conduct at home to try to figure out the origin of your stone but my recommendation is to take it to a professional. Below I’ve listed 5 ways that you can use to tell if your ruby is real.

  1. Seek Professional Help – for Your Stone

The best way to identify your stone’s origins is to take it to a professional gemologist. They will be able to have a look at it using their gemological tools and tell you its origin.

In order to do this, ensure that you have sought out a reputable jeweler. It might be a good idea to check out any reviews that may be available of your chosen gemologist and what other customers are saying about them.

Ask your gemologist to provide you with a certificate of appraisal which will be evidence of the value of your stone.

  1. Look for Minuscule Flaws

A natural ruby will have tiny flaws within which are not visible without a microscope. There will also be natural stains of imperfection present within the stone. Because natural rubies grow in erratic and dangerous conditions below the earth, they are prone to having inclusions and debris.

Most times, the flaws are so tiny that only expert gemologists would be able to see these using a process called spectroscopy. Under high magnification and special instruments, these flaws on naturally mined stones become obvious.

You can also examine your ruby at home using a quality jeweler’s loupe like this one to spot any flaws.

Synthetic rubies are generally flawless, as these microscopic inclusions are difficult to replicate in lab conditions. So if your stone is flawless, it is probably a synthetic stone or perhaps even an imitation.  Having said that, if there are bubble-like inclusions, this can be an indication that the stone is glass and not an actual ruby.

  1. The Scratch Test

A ruby is a very hard stone, a 9 on the Mohs scale. It is second in durability only to the diamond, meaning that only a diamond (or an object with the hardness of a diamond) can scratch it. In comparison, glass is a mere 5.5.

Scratch the surface of your ruby with a key or coin, and look for any scratch marks. If there are scratch marks, then the stone is probably a fake.  A real ruby cannot be scratched so easily.

  1. The Rub Test

In this test, you are looking to see if your stone leaves color. Use the ruby to scratch a hard and yet smooth surface, such as a piece of glass. If there is a streak of red color left behind on the surface, then it is clear that your stone is a fake. A real ruby will never leave color in that way. The only issue with this test is that you cannot be sure that the stone is real if it doesn’t leave a trace of color. You can only be certain it isn’t genuine if it does.

  1. Price and Size

Naturally grown rubies can be very expensive. To give you an idea of the difference in rates, a synthetic ruby can be about 20% less expensive than a natural ruby, while a fake ruby can be up to 90% cheaper. If your ruby is extremely cheap, it is probably a fake. If it is reasonable but not overly cheap, it is probably a synthetic stone.

In terms of size, it is very difficult to find natural rubies in large sizes (and if you do, they are exponentially priced!). If a ruby is quite large, there is a high probability it is synthetic or imitation.

Shopping Smart – Where and How

It always makes sense to shop smartly and check the stone carefully prior to buying (you will be surprised at how many people do the opposite). Whether you opt to shop online or at a brick and mortar store, the rules generally remain the same. One main difference when shopping online is to ensure that you see high quality images and videos of the actual ruby and not simply a stock photo.

Most importantly, shop from a reputable and registered vendor. As I’ve mentioned before, ensure that you are given a certificate of appraisal and check that the stone has been examined by a professional gemologist.

The image above shows a certificate for a ruby listed on James Allen. It states that the stone has been appraised by a qualified gemologist. It also states that the stone has been heat treated and that heat treatment is a common procedure for rubies.

James Allen ruby certificate

When it comes to purchasing natural, high quality rubies online, we recommend Delarah. Their rubies are all unheated and untreated, and have been cherry picked for perfection.

James Allen also has an excellent listing of rubies of varying prices. Most of the rubies have been heat-treated to enhance stability and color, but don’t worry as this is an industry standard. It does not mean that the stone is fake.

Amazon is a great place to check out all types of rubies to suit all budgets. Due your due diligence and check out the after sales policies and vendor’s reputation before you purchase to avoid headaches.

At the end of the day, whether you purchase a natural, synthetic or imitation ruby totally depends on your choice. There is no right or wrong in this and it doesn’t matter which you choose. What is important, however, is that you do know the origin of your stone and are not being scammed.  

What to know more? Read our complete article on ruby shopping guide.

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